2017-06-14

Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 2

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from part 1…..

Expanding the Foundation Story

Notice how the author of Luke-Acts prepares for his second volume (Acts) from the outset of his new gospel:

  • Luke extends the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam and God themselves. Jesus no longer (as in Matthew) is contextualized within the Abrahamic family but comes with more universal credentials.

In the gospel Jesus is clearly the authority figure but our author manoeuvres the narrative to replace Jesus with the Holy Spirit as the new authority in Acts. To do so, Luke actually contrives a new concept of the Holy Spirit, at least one that is different from the spirit we read about in Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John. (That’s another topic of its own that I may write about soon, examining two works cited by Müller, Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit by Engberg-Pedersen, 2010 and “It is the Spirit That Gives Life”: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John’s Gospel by Buch-Hansen, 2010.)

The Holy Spirit to Jesus Becomes the Holy Spirit to the Church

Notice next how the author repeats the motif of the Holy Spirit with which he began Jesus’ work in Acts to begin the Church’s work.

As Jesus at his baptism became endowed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3.21-22), thus the church is also first established at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (p. 106)

To extrapolate from Müller’s work, I wonder if we have here an explanation for why in the Gospel of Luke the account of Jesus’ baptism is so incidentally presented (as an afterthought). The focus of Luke’s narrative is the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus through prayer. In Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

Luke’s image is repeated so it appears like two columns side by side: as prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit opened Jesus’ ministry and gave him the authority, so prayer and the Holy Spirit opened and authorized the ministry of the Church in Acts.

This is but one of several demonstrations of how Acts is being built out of material in the gospel.

We saw in the previous post that other evangelists shoehorned subsequent church situations (the law, gentiles) into the story of Jesus. Luke-Acts delays the completion of the foundation story, however. The foundation story is not complete until “the new Israel” is established as the church is withdrawn from “Judaism”. A series of historical steps in the life of the church replace the sayings of the earthly Jesus (as in Mark and Matthew) as the explanation for the church’s final stance on the Mosaic Law.

The Holy Spirit remains the new authority throughout Acts.

As Passover was set as the time for the covenant made by Jesus in the gospel so Pentecost was introduced as the time of the covenant with the church in Acts, Pentecost being in the Judean religion a feast of covenant renewal. With the Holy Spirit come all the fulfillments of  Scripture: new hearts, obedience, and proofs of the resurrection as promised in the Scripture, and proofs that the Scripture had been fulfilled with the messiah son of David reigning on God’s throne.

Luke’s gospel concluded with Jesus pointing to all the scriptures that had been “fulfilled” in his life, death and resurrection and Acts opens with all the scriptures being fulfilled now with the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church.

The Twelve to Israel first

read more »


2017-06-13

Biblical Scholar Watch #2

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Anthony Le Donne

Ooh the irony the irony!! Back in 2012 when Anthony Le Donne read Vridar’s review of his book on Authenticity he could not resist dropping a complimentary comment here on Vridar:

Hi Neil, anthony here. Thanks for your very elaborate review! I realized that I hadn’t added your blog to our blogroll. This oversight has been corrected. Looking forward to more segments.

http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com.au/

Now the same book appears in another online article and bam! Our good professor has done a 180 degree turnabout!

Anthony Le Donne has posted the a complaint that Valerie Tarico and David Fitzgerald “misrepresented” a book he edited/wrote with Chris (Dr.) Keith. (Le Donne is addressing lay critics so it is important to impress with the title of who is speaking here.)

Associate Professor Le Donne tells his blog readers that the motive for this blatant “misrepresentation” by Tarico and Fitzgerald was to serve “a clickbait agenda”. Of course. Do not engage with the critics. Impute their motives. Denigrate them as unworthy charlatans.

Finally, Dr Le Donne declares that “clearly” neither Tarico nor Fitzgerald have actually read their (Keith and Le Donne’s) book.

In fact what Tarico and Fitzgerald said about it was nothing more the blandest summary of what I expressed in depth in the review Le Donne was so chuffed to see me write.

In all, I can spot three misrepresentations by anthony (as he initially introduced himself to me and evidently prefers to be known among his peers and sympathetic readers). I love the way the associate professor avoids discussion of exactly where any misrepresentation lay on the part of the authors of the article and what the article actually said about the book.

Anthony’s accusations of misrepresentation are at: Misrepresentation.

Valerie and David’s “clickbait” link he is complaining about is found at: Evidence for Jesus is weaker than you might think.

Vridar has posted several more times on the book, too. You can see our posts discussing it at the Keith/LeDonne: Jesus Criteria archive.

 

I would be interested in knowing exactly what I or David Fitzgerald have ever actually written about the book is a “misrepresentation” of it.

 

 


Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 1

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

This post selects a few of the highlights from Mogens Müller’s chapter in Luke’s Literary Creativity (2016) in which he presents a case for Acts being a “biblical rewriting of the gospels and the letters of Paul”. I omit several important questions that his thesis raises and that he addresses in the same chapter, attempting to focus here exclusively on some of the indicators that Acts could be such a rewriting.

Müller accepts the possibility that Luke-Acts was written well into the second century, possibly even as late as the 140s, as a revised foundational story for the church. Such a late date should not be a problem, Müller suggests, if we no longer accept that the author did not use Q as one of his sources but knew of and included both Matthew and even possibly John as among the previous lives of Jesus that he was critical of in his introduction. (For other arguments that Luke and Acts in their current canonical form were a mid second century product see the archive on Tyson‘s book and links within those posts to related archives.) Müller even points to recent scholarship that allows for the work of Papias as a possible source for the author of Luke-Acts.

Inclusion of the Non-Jewish World

If Paul’s letters are our oldest surviving Christian documents and the authors of our first gospels, Mark and Matthew, needed to find a way to explain how gentiles came to be incorporated into a church supposedly founded by a Jewish teacher in Galilee, we know they found the solution by creating “proleptic episodes and teaching” in their stories of Jesus. read more »


2017-06-11

Thailand Holiday with Rhyming Parallels from Another Ancient World

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Each time I visit Thailand I find myself wondering if I am in a country with religious parallels to the ancient Mediterranean world in which Christianity emerged. Obviously there are enormous differences, too, and it would be silly to ignore those and try to say that Thailand, like a number of other east Asian countries are replicas of the world of the New Testament. But history does rhyme, does it not? Take a look at these photos…

Everywhere one turns there is an image of the king or his wife looking benignly upon all and sundry. Thais overwhelmingly demonstrate adoration for their beloved king. People have photographs of him in their homes, in their business offices, in their work factories. And of course in public places, roadways, buildings. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) died in October last year but there is a year long period of national mourning and the amount of black being worn by shoppers and office workers cannot fail to be noticed. Westerners who come from a tradition of mocking their leaders should understand the seriousness of Thai customs and their lèse-majesté laws. Do let the reader understand!


Check out the official name of a certain hospital building, too. The same name cum date cum title cum occasion, in full just as you see it here, is attached to the building itself.

But that’s just what we should expect in a city whose full ceremonial name is nothing less than

“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.”

But you can call it Bangkok, or if you want to impress the locals, Krung Thep.

Then there is the religious variety. Thailand is a Buddhist country but people are seen pausing to pray to images or other reminders of Hindu and Chinese deities or spirit protectors as well. One even sees the occasional reminder of Christianity as one of their options.

Buddhist temples are ubiquitous, of course.

But then there are any Hindu deities everywhere, too, and people don’t mind what their provenance, they will very often be seen praying to them without discrimination. read more »


2017-06-10

What a Beautiful Result!

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Corbyn raised a media controversy with Branson’s transport company by opting to sit on floor of a train journeying from London to Newcastle. (Corbyn, by the way, does not own a car but does have a bicycle.)

After all the elites mocking Jeremy Corbyn us unelectable:

and after the intense attack on Corbyn by the mainstream media:

and

(both images from Norton and Blumenthal) . . . .

It turns out that an astonishing number of people really are acquiring a hope that a more equitable society is possible, that it really is a good idea for public utilities and national health services to be publicly owned, that free education is the right of everyone, that wars should be settled by political means. Neoliberal elites cannot understand such sentiments; and even many of the commentaries I have read on Corbyn’s dramatic success in changing the landscape of British politics seem still as bewildered as ever: Corbyn was “just a crazy populist” and those who voted for him don’t have any idea that without the neoliberal market driven provision of “goods and services” we all be doomed! People should listen more attentively to their “elitist betters”.

It’s been a long, long, wait to see such possibilities in the political landscape once again.

 


2017-06-08

One Key Difference between Gospels and an Ancient Biography

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I post here a reply, slightly edited, that I offered in response to a comment by Chris S on Tim’s recent post, What’s the Difference Between a History and a Biography? I think it addresses an important difference that I think is commonly found to exist between our canonical gospels and many ancient biographies. So thanks to Chris S for opening up the opportunity for this discussion.

Ancient histories and biographies are topics I continue to study and learn more about each year and there are recent scholarly publications on ancient biographies I am still trying to catch up with. So I will confine myself in this comment to just one aspect of Chris S’s point. He poses as the Devil’s or God’s Advocate, and I like that. He wrote, in part:

For example, I’m looking at the life of Camillus in my “Great Books” volume of Plutarch. I can’t find a single source identification whatsoever. I see at one point Plutarch begins an anecdote with “Some say…” At another point (p. 116) he provides two different versions of a conflict, in which he names no sources, begins the second by saying that “the general stream of writers prefer the other account,” and makes no personal judgment on whether he agrees with the majority opinion. Not especially rigorous the handling of sources in this case.

And regardless of what we might ultimately conclude the Gospels actually are, IMHO leaving out the scholarly apparatus makes total sense on the hypothesis that they were intended as biographies for mass consumption. (my formatting)

There are abundant indicators of fictional embellishment in Plutarch’s life of Camillus, but there is something else with no counterpart in the canonical gospels until we reach Luke 1:1. Unlike the evangelists, Plutarch frequently drops in casual hints that he is indeed relying upon sources for his narrative, either oral or written. I realize I am copying English translation (Project Gutenberg’s) so do correct my references if their originals are not accurately represented or if there are expressions in the gospels lending themselves to equivalent translations. Examples:

Among the many remarkable things that are related of Furius Camillus . . .

During his censorship one very good act of his is recorded . . .

as great a prodigy as the most incredible that are reported . . .

It is said that the prince of the Tuscans was at that very time at sacrifice . . . But this may look like a fable. . . .

and the statue, they say, answered in a low voice . . . Other wonders of the like nature, drops of sweat seen to stand on statues, groans heard from them, the figures seen to turn round and to close their eyes, are recorded by many ancient historians; and we ourselves could relate divers wonderful things, which we have been told by men of our own time, that are not lightly to be rejected; but to give too easy credit to such things, or wholly to disbelieve them, is equally dangerous . . .

The Gauls are of the Celtic race, and are reported to have been compelled by their numbers to leave their country . . .

He that first brought wine among them and was the chief instigator of their coming into Italy is said to have been one Aruns . . .

The question of unlucky days, whether we should consider any to be so, and whether Heraclitus did well in upbraiding Hesiod for distinguishing them into fortunate and unfortunate, as ignorant that the nature of every day is the same, I have examined in another place . . .

Thargelion was a very unfortunate month to the barbarians, for in it Alexander overcame Darius’s generals on the Granicus; and the Carthaginians, on the twenty-fourth, were beaten by Timoleon in Sicily, on which same day and month Troy seems to have been taken, as Ephorus, Callisthenes, Damastes, and Phylarchus state. . . .

Plutarch cites no sources for what are surely well-known events from the world of “historical memory”, Alexander’s defeat of Darius and Timoleon’s defeat of the Carthaginians. But when he introduces a detail from the Trojan war Plutarch changes tack and introduces sources to back up a claim that might otherwise be questioned for its provenance in the world of gods and mythical heroes.

I am not ignorant, that, . . .

One could reckon up several that have had variety of fortune on the same day. . . . But I have discussed this more accurately in my Roman Questions.

Some write that . . . . Others say that . . . . The most common opinion was, that . . . others say that . . . . telling a story how that . . . . But they who profess to know more of the matter affirm that . . . . However it be . . . .

if, indeed, it can be supposed probable that an exact chronological statement has been preserved of events which were themselves the cause of chronological difficulties about things of later date. . . . Heraclides Ponticus, who lived not long after these times, in his book upon the Soul, relates that a certain report came from the west, that an army, proceeding from the Hyperboreans, had taken a Greek city called Rome, seated . . . . Aristotle the philosopher appears to have heard a correct statement of the taking of the city by the Gauls, but he calls its deliverer Lucius. . . . But this is a matter of conjecture.

Notice again that Plutarch introduces sympathy with the reader who might question the historical accuracy of something that might seem to be too neat to derive from reality. read more »


2017-06-07

What’s the Difference Between a History and a Biography?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

Plutarch

Plutarch

Because so many NT scholars desperately want the gospels to be both Greco-Roman biographies and reliable histories, we could almost forget that these two forms of literature are not the same. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what Plutarch said:

It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every particular circumstance of it. It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives.

And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

Therefore as portrait-painters are more exact in the lines and features of the face, in which the character is seen, than in the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks and indications of the souls of men, and while I endeavour by these to portray their lives, may be free to leave more weighty matters and great battles to be treated of by others. (Plutarch’s Alexander [emphasis and reformatting mine])

We could boil these comments down into the following points. A biography: read more »


2017-06-05

Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Homicide Laws

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

After the introduction (covered in my previous post) Russell Gmirkin divides chapter three of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, “Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Laws” into thematic sections:

  • laws relating to homicide,
  • laws relating to assault,
  • to theft,
  • to marriage and inheritance,
  • to sexual offences,
  • to slavery,
  • to social legislation (concerning resident foreigners, widows, orphans, the poor, disabled persons, etc.),
  • to livestock,
  • to property crimes and agricultural law,
  • to commerce,
  • to military law,
  • to treason,
  • to “religious” or laws concerning the sacred,
  • and finally general ethical laws.

Each section documents details the three sources of laws — biblical, ANE and Greek — and concludes with a comparative discussion.

Near Eastern law codes included Hittite laws, the law codes of Eshnunna (LE), Hammurabi (LH), Ur-Nammu, Neo-Babylonian and Middle Assyrian laws and palace decrees and the Telepinu Edict. Points of Greek law are drawn from the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Lysias, Demosthenes, Xenophon, among others including Aeschylus and Andocides.

The chapter extends to 109 pages and includes 369 endnotes and a bibliography of over 140 titles.

This post looks at one of the above sections and Russell Gmirkin’s observations on the extent of the biblical laws’ similarity or otherwise to counterparts in the Near Eastern and Greek worlds.

All three geographical regions unsurprisingly stress the importance of lex talionis, of vengeance and deterrence as intended purposes of their legislation with respect to murder or even accidental killing.

But there are a number of significant points Greek and biblical law share that are nowhere found among our surviving evidence for laws in Mesopotamian and Asia Minor civilizations. These Greek-biblical similarities include

  • the recognition of different psychological states in determining appropriate punishments
  • the idea of blood pollution in the land
  • the responsibility of the relatives of the victim to initiate prosecution of the murderer
  • the possibility of at least temporary sanctuary in a temple
  • and the option of exile
  • stoning by the community
  • the killing of an animal responsible for killing a person
  • killing a burglar entering a house at night was justifiable homicide (ANE law required the execution of such a burglar but it is not stated that a house-owner himself could justifiably kill the burglar in the act)

“State of mind”

On the first point, the recognition of “state of mind” factors in determining penalties, Gmirkin writes:

Plato’s Laws contained an innovation on the Athenian laws for intentional homicide by distinguishing premeditated and unpremeditated homicide. Plato held that those murders committed with cold premeditation received a greater punishment in the form of a longer term of exile than those commit ted on impulse with no forethought, despite an equal degree of malice (Plato, Laws 9.866d-869e; cf. Chase 1933: 168-9,171-2; Loomis 1972: 93—4; MacDowell 1978: 115; Gagarin 1981: 35).

Here is part of Plato’s explanation:

For murder is committed in passion by those who, on a sudden and without intent to kill, destroy a man by blows or some such means in an immediate attack, when the deed is at once followed by repentance; and it is also a case of murder done in passion whenever men who are insulted by shameful words or actions seek for vengeance, and end by killing a man with deliberate intent to kill, and feel no repentance for the deed. We must lay it down, as it seems, that these murders are of two kinds, both as a rule done in passion, and most properly described as lying midway between the voluntary and the involuntary. None the less, each of these kinds tends to resemble one or other of these contraries; for the man who retains his passion and takes vengeance, not suddenly on the spur of the moment, but after lapse of time, and with deliberate intent, resembles the voluntary murderer; whereas the man who does not nurse his rage, but gives way to it at once on the spur of the moment and without deliberate intent, has a likeness to the involuntary murderer; yet neither is he wholly involuntary, but bears a resemblance thereto. Thus murders done in passion are difficult to define,—whether one should treat them in law as voluntary or involuntary. The best and truest way is to class them both as resemblances, and to distinguish them by the mark of deliberate intent or lack of intent, and to impose more severe penalties on those who slay with intent and in anger, and milder penalties on those who do so without intent and on a sudden. For that which resembles a greater evil must be more heavily punished, that which resembles a lesser evil more lightly. So our laws also must do likewise. . . . .

Examples follow:

If a man with his own hand slay a free man, and the deed be done in rage without deliberate intent, he shall suffer such other penalties as it is proper for the man to suffer who has slain without passion, and he shall be compelled to go into exile for two years, thereby chastising his own passion.

Compare Exodus 21:13

12 “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he did not lie in wait [i.e. there was no premeditation], but God delivered him into his hand [i.e. indicating this was an instance of intentional homicide], then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.

The explanatory phrases I have added are from Gmirkin’s endnotes.

Exile

We also have in this example a reference to exile as a form of penalty, something unknown in our records of ANE laws. read more »


2017-06-04

Happy Anniversary to Vridar!

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

Seven years ago, Neil registered with WordPress.com and Vridar was born. Thanks, Neil!


2017-06-03

Expulsion of the Palestinians: Insights into Yishuv’s Transfer Ideas in World War 2

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Dear Reader,

This post is for anyone who loathes racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab, and who feels they have not heard details of the Palestinian side of the history of the establishment of Israel in 1948. It continues a series of posts I have been doing on a book by Palestinian historian Nur Masalha titled Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. As the title indicates, the research Masalha addresses is the extent to which the Jewish Zionist movement was seriously preparing to transfer the Arabs out of Palestine prior to 1948. The significance of the research is that it indicates that the popular notion that the Palestinians virtually voluntarily left Palestine at the establishment of the state of Israel and the first war with the neighbouring Arab states is a myth.

So if you are someone who cannot tolerate any suggestion that there could possibly be two sides to the situation besetting Palestine today then don’t read any further. If you are obsessed with a one-sided narrative that Israelis are saintly innocent victims and Palestinian Arabs are devilish bloodthirsty monsters, go away.

Thank you.

Below are extracts from a diary of Yosef Weitz, director of department responsible for land acquisition and distribution in Palestine in the years leading up to 1948. Weitz was typical of many of his fellow-leaders of the Jewish settlements in Palestine, believing strongly in the necessity of Arab transfer from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers. Nur Masalha describes his unedited diaries, now in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, as

One of the best sources of insight into the Yishuv leadership’s transfer ideas during World War II. (1992, p. 131)

All bolding of text is my own.

Josef Weitz

20 December, 1940:

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim to be an independent people in this small country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted. When the war is over, and the English have emerged victorious and when the judging nations sit on the throne of law, our people should bring their petitions and claims before them; and the only solution is that the Land of Israel, or at least the Western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point. The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found — even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews and a solution will be found to the Jewish question. There is no other solution.

18th March, 1941: read more »


2017-06-02

Mosaic Laws: from Classical Greece or the Ancient Near East?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

[These Laws] will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say,

“Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:6-8 (NIV)

In the previous set of posts on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible we surveyed the broad constitutional framework of the Pentateuchal laws in comparison with Classical Greek and Ancient Near Eastern legal collections. Those posts are

  1. Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  2. The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look
  3. David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and other Military Matters in Ancient Israel
  4. Some preliminaries before resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  5. The Tribes of Israel modeled on the Athenian and Ideal Greek Tribes?
  6. The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?
  7. Similarities between Biblical and Greek Judicial Systems
  8. The Inspiration for Israel’s Law of the Ideal King
  9. Bible’s Priests and Prophets – With Touches of Greek
  10. Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel

In the third chapter, “Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Laws”, Gmirkin undertakes a comparison of specific laws covering various social relations. Scholars have studied in depth the Hammurabi Law Code of Babylon in the light of the Pentateuchal laws but Gmirkin asks if it is valid to question whether ancient Greek legal codes also have relevance to the Bible.

Gmirkin draws attention to the Deuteronomy passage quoted above and asks us ot consider its international setting. Different nations are expected to observe and study Israel’s laws, comparing them with their own and with other law codes. It sounds as if the Deuteronomist had enough knowledge of other law codes to be confident that his stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Such a game-plan sounds quite odd and we know of nothing like this among the ancients of the Near East.

But we do know that elites among the Greeks did indeed write about doing just such multi-national comparisons of law codes. Is that relevant? Does that practice give meaning to Deuteronomy 4:6-8?

We have records from among the Greeks that when a new colony was to be founded or when a new government had been installed that legal experts would consult with other “nations” about their laws as preparation for drafting their own.

Gmirkin’s observation: read more »


2017-06-01

Pity the dead who were poor

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Today’s photo from Thailand. . . . I’ve met this chap a few times now, always in the grounds of a Buddhist temple. His presence never fails to put a smile on my face, so I’d like to share his company with you, too….. He is inviting you to slip a donation into the coffin at his feet. It’s to pay for the funerals of the deceased (specifically for their coffins) too poor to finance their own final farewell.


2017-05-31

Early Christianity Looked Like a Philosophical School

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post on Stanley K. Stowers’ chapter, “Does Pauline Christianity Resemble a Hellenistic Philosophy?” . . .

To pre-empt predictable objections Stowers begins with three riders:

  1. His comparison study does not make claims about origins; he is not arguing that Christianity began as a Hellenistic philosophy.
  2. Comparison or similarity does not mean sameness; he is not arguing that Pauline Christianity was a philosophy.
  3. Similarities with philosophical schools do not exclude similarities with other social groups.

With that ground cleared, following are seven similarities Stowers identifies.

1. Hellenistic philosophies saw themselves as distinctive sects, each focused on a central value/good

There were, for example, Stoics, Cynics and Epicureans. Each of these had its own attitude toward life and idea of what is the single umbrella good to which one must strive.

Stoics taught that virtue was “the answer” to the question of life. Everything else, all the other values and attachments deemed to be good were subordinate to “unitary good” of virtue. Family, possessions, would always take second place in the event of any conflict in following the ideal of virtue.

For Epicureans the ultimate good was freedom from pain and friendship. And so forth.

For Paul, the single, overriding good was “life in Christ”. Other values such as marriage, the household, business, ethnicity, were secondary. Even the commandments of God in the Jewish scriptures were superseded by Christ.

Yes, Paul’s stress upon worship of only one God and not many, and his “apocalyptic intensification” of these beliefs was Jewish, but Paul ripped them away from their ethnic, cultic and legal Judean contexts.

2. Hellenistic philosophies were contrary to conventional thinking

Ordinary civic virtue and conventional values were not the way to “happiness” or the “good life” according to Hellenistic philosophies.

The philosophies taught new ways of thinking, new motivations and desires to cultivate. Asceticism was valued.

In this context Stowers believes it no accident that the founders of the Hellenistic schools were not married and that Jesus and Paul were not married either. Paul challenged both Gentile and Judean norms of culture. The wisdom of God was set in opposition to both Greek and Jewish values.

Again, the structural similarities with the philosophies are obvious. (p. 91)

3. Hellenistic philosophies led to a new life, a new orientation of the self, a conversion

Stoics taught that the conversion was instantaneous.

For a more detailed discussion of the similarity between Paul’s idea of conversion to a life in Christ and the Stoic conversion see:

  1. Paul and the Stoics – 1 (2009-11-04)
  2. Christian conversion – an idea crafted by Paul from ancient philosophy (2009-11-08)

Other philosophies apparently ridiculed this Stoic idea of the way to attain virtue and taught, on the contrary, that virtue could only be attained gradually, over time, through a series of graduated steps.

Stowers adds that there is, moreover,

a literary tradition that becomes most prominent in the early empire in which writers give vivid descriptions of the turmoil and changes in the soul of those who convert to philosophy. Paul uses exactly the same language for conversion to the gospel. (p. 92)

4. Hellenistic philosophies required techniques to master and remake one’s self

read more »


Michael Licona Asks, “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?”

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

[Edit: When first published, this post credited Michael Bird instead of Michael Licona for this book. I can’t explain it, other than a total brain-fart, followed by the injudicious use of mass find-and-replace. My apologies to everyone. –Tim]

We have to dig deep to find something nice to say about Michael R. Licona’s new book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? Perhaps the best thing I can come up with is that he didn’t insert the word apparent to soften the blow. Other apologists will tell us why we needn’t worry about “apparent differences” or “seeming contradictions.” Not Licona. He acknowledges the differences and says he wants to find out how they got there.

Poor Ancient Historians

In his foreword, Craig Evans notes the variations among the evangelists and asks:

How is this to be explained? Should these discrepancies be regarded as errors? Were the Gospel writers poor historians? Have they told the truth about Jesus?

Such is the strange and mysterious world of NT scholarship. How can we explain these bizarre questions?

According to some of today’s most prolific writers in biblical scholarship, the evangelists — the authors of the canonical gospels — were historians and writers of Greco-Roman biographies. They reach these conclusions via embarrassingly obvious cherry-picking, which leaves them with a pile of incongruous evidence, which they feel compelled to explain away. read more »